Chef Rick Bayless

Since the inception of his first restaurant in1987 Frontera, Chef Rick Bayless has been an advocate of bringing farm to table freshness with locally grown organic produce and meats to his kitchen.

Although at first supplies were limited and believing in sustainable agriculture, Chef Bayless organized the Frontera Farmers Foundation in 2003 to help expand boutique size farms in the Midwest that serve the Chicago area.

The Frontera Foundation supplies grants for those in need of equipment that is vital to their farming efforts. These grants have greatly helped organic agriculture in the marketplace and supply chefs with products they require for healthful and delicious meals.

Chef Bayless and his wife have since opened their second restaurant in1991 Topolobampo, a fine dining experience and Xoco in 2009, supplying these establishments with 90 percent of organic and locally grown products.

Chef Bayless has written nine cookbooks has won many awards and is host to the ever popular TV series, Mexico-One Plate at a Time. Both his culinary talents and humanitarian efforts are a testament to Chef’s love for the planet and its people.

Great food, like all art, enhances and reflects a community’s vitality, growth and solidarity. Yet history bears witness that great cuisines spring only from healthy local agriculture.”

—Rick Bayless, Proprietor of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo

Beaux Sejours had the opportunity to ask Chef Bayless a little about himself:

What was the inspiration for your passion of Mexican cuisine that led you to spend 5 years in Mexico?

A lot of it is centered around the fact that the dishes and menus I came across during my travels — in all of the Mexican markets, restaurantes and cafeterías — didn’t always match what was found in Mexican cookbooks in our country.

I wanted to pull together into a single volume the specialities I’d found throughout Mexico, with all the necessary details on where and when to find them, and how to authentically prepare them here at home. That research became my first cookbook, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, which sort of set the stage for everything that, has followed.

What do you consider the essential ingredients of authentic Mexican cuisine?

Chiles, garlic, corn, tomatoes, tomatillos, beans and the list goes on and on.

The importance of sustainable, organic farming is vital to future generations and your Frontera Farmers Foundation helps farmers succeed. Is there anything we as consumers can do to support this program?

Simply paying attention to the origin of your food goes a very long way. So does cooking with minimally processed, natural ingredients, shopping at farmers’ markets and trying to eat what’s in season.

More practically, the foundation accepts online donations, which help provide capital development grants to small Midwestern family farms.

You are an accomplished chef celebrating 10 seasons with an award winning show on PBS TV, published a variety of cookbooks, as well as being a proprietor of acclaimed restaurants and organized the Farmers Foundation. What is your philosophy?

In all of my pursuits — cooking, hosting “Mexico One Plate at a Time,” authoring cookbooks, helping to run the restaurants and all of the associated business — I go into them clear-eyed and motivated by genuine hospitality and environmental stewardship. How do we create a warm, welcoming culture in everything we do? How do we best honor farmers and respect natural ingredients? How do we celebrate and elevate Mexican culture?

When you have a free moment what do you relax with?

I’ve been practicing yoga every day for quite a while. They are super-challenging classes, but they help keep me focused and ready.

If you could dine with one person in history who would it be?

I’m going to say James Beard. I really like that he just enjoyed and respected food, whether it was fine dining or lowbrow.

Do you have any new projects happening?

Yes. Later this year, we’re opening a brewery and restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop. It’s an area already bustling with restaurants and we’re really excited to be a part of it. We haven’t released any details yet, but suffice it to say it will be an entirely new concept here.

Would you share a recipe with Beaux Sejours?

Enchiladas Verdes

  • 1 pound (about 8 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1 or 2 fresh Serrano chiles
  • 1 small white onion, sliced ½ inch thick plus A few slices for garnish (divided use)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil, bacon drippings or fresh-rendered pork lard
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley OR a large sprig of epazote
  •  2 3/4 cups (12 ounces) cooked, coarsely shredded, boneless chicken, pork or beef (this is a good place for rotisserie chicken or leftover roasted or braised meats) or 3 cups (12 ounces) shredded Mexican melting cheese (such as Chihuahua, quesadilla or asadero) or Monterey Jack, brick or mild cheddar or 1 ½ cups (12 ounces) goat or dry-ish ricotta cheese
  • 8 corn tortillas, preferably from a local tortillería
  • Dollops of Mexican crema, sour cream, crème fraiche or Greek-style yogurt thinned with a little milk OR A few tablespoons grated Mexican queso añejo or other garnishing cheese such as Romano or Parmesan OR A handful of shredded Mexican melting cheese (such as Chihuahua, quesadilla or asadero) or Monterey Jack, brick or mild cheddar —you can sprinkle it over the enchiladas before they go into the oven
  • A handful of cilantro leaves (if I have them)

INSTRUCTIONS

First make a roasted tomatillo base: On a rimmed baking sheet, spread out tomatillos, garlic, Serrano, and the small white onion, sliced ½ inch thick. Slide the baking sheet as close up under a preheated broiler as possible. After 4 or 5 minutes, when everything is blotchy-black and softening, turn the vegetables and roast the other side until everything is cooked through (they should be soft), while taking on an attractive bit of rustic char.  Once the vegetables are roasted, they go on the stove top to cool down a little.

When the vegetables have cooled down enough to handle, slip the skins off the garlic and pull the stem off the chiles. In a blender, combine the tomatillos (and any juice on the baking sheet), garlic, chiles, onion and a scant teaspoon salt, and blend everything to a coarse puree.

In a large (10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat measure the oil or lard. When it’s hot, add the roasted tomatillo sauce base.  Let the sauce reduce and concentrate, stirring it frequently, for about 4 minutes. When it’s thicker than spaghetti sauce, stir in chicken broth and cilantro or parsley. Season the sauce with salt, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it simmer while you prepare the filling.

Measure out your choice of filling. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees. Spray or brush with oil on one side of the tortillas then stack them up, slip them into a plastic bag, fold it over and microwave them at 100% for 1 minute. Let them stand for a minute (to uniformly absorb the heat) while you stir a little sauce into the meat to moisten it (the cheese needs no sauce). Then lay out the tortillas on the counter, top them each with a portion cup of the meat or cheese, roll them up and fit them into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.  Spoon the hot sauce over them (covering the whole tortilla avoids dry ends), slide them into the oven and bake just until heated through—about 4 minutes. Longer in the oven means mushy enchiladas.

To serve the enchiladas, simply use a spatula to transfer them to dinner plates. Garnish the enchiladas with the topping(s) of your choice, crema, cheese, white onion, and or cilantro leaves.

Great food, like all art, enhances and reflects a community’s vitality, growth and solidarity. Yet history bears witness that great cuisines spring only from healthy local agriculture.”

Rick Bayless, Proprietor of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo